May 5, 2011

KOREA: "Sharing is most noble thing one can do for others"

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SEOUL, Korea / The Korea Herald  / News / May 5, 2011

By Bae Ji-sook

A new era of sharing in Korea has been heralded by the minister of health and welfare.

Chin Soo-hee urged the public to realize that sharing even the smallest things could foster a charity culture here, during an exclusive interview to mark the launch of The Korea Herald’s new “Sharing” page.

“Sharing is the single most noble thing one can do for other people. That is to express the utmost love without condition. It doesn’t have to involve a large sum of money or something extraordinary. All you need is love and passion for others,” Chin said last week.


Health and Welfare Minister Chin Soo-hee talks about the
importance of sharing at her office in Seoul.
(Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

Chin and her ministry recently introduced a range of projects to foster sharing across Korean society, including a state-run volunteering group of youths and senior citizens, and incentives for businesses to take part in charity. She pointed to some Western countries where charity has already become an integral part of people’s lives as examples for her vision for Korea.

“From the very early stage, children are taught to share the small allowance they get from their parents with others. When they grow up, they carry out what they have learned. Numerous events are held for benevolent purposes and people take it for granted that they should take part in them. It is well established as a moral code for them,” she said.

Chin now seeks to include sharing in the school curriculum and advises companies to give extra credits to jobseekers with volunteering experience when hiring employees.

“Charity experience shows how warm-hearted a person is and how devoted she or he is to the community. That can be translated into loyalty as well. Isn’t that a good reason to hire them?” she said.

But most of all, she added, people need to be more active in spreading the culture of philanthropy ― a job The Korea Herald has tasked itself with in creating the new weekly “Sharing” page.

Health and Welfare Minister Chin Soo-hee has urged Koreans to be inspired to give by figures such as Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett and Richard Branson. And she urged charitable souls to work to inspire others to give as well.

“Do not seek to make your name big or to show off what you’ve got,” Chin said, smiling, “but raise other people’s awareness and encourage them to join what you are doing. In this case, no one would really think you are showing off at all.”

The ministry of health and welfare’s recent raft of “sharing” projects aim to promote philanthropic deeds throughout the nation.

Charitable donations made in Korea have more than tripled in recent years, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. The nation’s donations totaled 9.6 trillion won in 2009, compared to 2.9 trillion won in 1999. The number of registered volunteers also rose from 1.4 million to 8.59 million over the same period.

The number of blood donors also jumped to 2.57 million, up from 2 million in 2007. Aside from blood donation, 140,445 people pledged to donate organs.

Despite the upward trend, Korea’s charity credentials still fall short of many countries. Currently, Korea’s private donations are equal to 0.5 percent of GNP ― way below 1.67 percent in the U.S., 0.73 percent in U.K. and 0.64 percent in South Africa.

In Korea, 21.3 percent of citizens participate in volunteering ― around half of the volunteering rates in the U.S. (41.9 percent), New Zealand (41.5 percent) and Norway (38.9 percent).

Given that charity can help ease the burden of the government welfare budget, charity or sharing should be a high priority in state affairs, experts say.

Promoting charity is one of the government’s most important missions as it strives to realize its vision of a caring society.

The ministry has just launched “Korea Hands,” to encourage more people to reach out to those in need.

Minister Chin, inspired by the AmeriCorps program, an American state-governed volunteers’ group doing work from public education to environmental cleanup projects, said Korea Hands will be a useful stepping stone for all people seeking to give something back to their communities.

Chin visited the U.S. Corporation for National and Community Service, which manages the AmeriCorps program, in March to get inspiration for Korea Hands.

The program is to kick off in Gyeonggi and South Jeolla provinces this month with 500 young and 300 senior citizen members. Younger members will volunteer for 10 to 40 hours a week over a period of more than six months. Senior citizens, aged 60 and older, will be able to help other people with their life experiences.

Korea Hands will provide them with training in leadership, basic administration and other skills.

The ministry plans to expand the program to other parts of the country following the launch in Gyeonggi and South Jeolla provinces.

Chin has offered some incentives to help stir interest in the program. Young volunteers who excel in the Korea Hands junior division will be given a chance to go to the U.S. to learn from AmeriCorps and other charity groups there.

Chin also said the ministry will seek ways to work with large corporations to help Korea Hands members get extra credits in recruitment processes.

“We will guarantee that those who have taken part in Korea Hands are not only generous but also smart, talented and capable of handling all kinds of cases. They gain such ability from doing charity and volunteer work,” she added.

In addition to the Korea Hands scheme, the ministry plans to appoint a total of 14,000 senior citizens from more than 700 community clubs for seniors nationwide as specialized volunteers.

The project will tap into seniors’ rich life experience.

The specialized volunteers will be given full control to plan volunteer work, and have a 3.7 billion won budget. The Korean Senior Citizens Association, the largest lobby group in Korea with more than 2 million members, will also support the project.

“I think we have a fair chance of success for the program,” Chin said. “The so-called baby boomers, born right after the Korean War (1950-1953), are about to retire or have retired. Most of them are highly educated, have had impressive careers, and have worked hard to develop the national economy. They are healthy, and most of all, eager to continue social activities in their post-retirement lives,” she said.

“Think about abundant experiences they have piled up. We need to gather them and pass them to the next generation,” Chin said.

For people who cannot spare time for volunteering, the ministry has launched the “Nanum (sharing) N Mark” program, which involves products from 22 companies including Lotte Mart, Samsung Tesco, Seven/Eleven and S-oil. The N Mark companies donate a certain portion of the proceeds from the sale of their products marked with “Nanum.”

“This way, businesses will be given a chance to participate in philanthropic activities, and citizens will naturally take part in the sharing process by shopping,” Chin said.

Welfare Ministry officials themselves have set an example of the sharing spirit by establishing the “Talent Donation Bank.”

Staff including high ranking officials donate money earned from extra activities, such as fees from giving lectures, writing articles and other work, to a central pool to be delivered to people in need. Within a month of launching, the donation bank managed to collect more than 10 million won, which was then shared with 3,312 poor people living near Seoul Station by buying them winter clothes last January, when temperatures dropped to record lows.

“Most of the extra income we make is possible because we are welfare ministry officials who should serve the public. So, we thought it would be appropriate to share the money with the public,” Chin said, adding that sharing a little of what you have with others isn’t a heavy burden.

Bae Ji-sook
E-Mail: baejisook@heraldm.com

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